The CIO's Role
In that context, how do you see the CIO's role?
It's twofold. First and foremost, he or she is part of the executive team with very, very good antennae into the environment. The CIO is probably one of the few executives who have a helicopter view of the organization. I see this again and again. The CIO is one of the few peopleoften the CEO and the COO might be the only other people, and maybe the CFOwho understand all the Lego blocks that comprise the enterprise.
If you've got a multibusiness enterprise, generally the presidents of the business units do not understand how all the parts fit together. I've run a lot of workshops for executives where we are looking to identify the shared things the organization needs to do. I'm not talking just about technology here but also about business strategies. And again and again, those business-unit presidents will answer to their business units and not to the company as a whole, even if they make the point that what they're doing is for the good of the company as a whole. So CIOs can be very much tuned in to what's going on and understand how all the pieces fit together.
The second important role that the CIO can play is to amass real-time information for the company to constantly monitor for strategic assumptions. What are the numbers coming in? What's the customer response? What's the way we are able to aggregate internal and external data? What's the best way to use technology in order to prompt questions rather than to answer questions?
So the CIO's role is, first, as an informed executive and, second, as the top player in what you might call aggregating and integrating data to test strategic assumptions, so that the company can be a real-time, sense-and-respond enterprise. When you're managing and focusing on strategy for the input you're getting as a company from the marketplace, then you need the information that goes with that so you know which way to move next.
How do you think CIOs can help most to bring about a particular strategy goal?
First, CIOs have to know the business, they have to understand intimately what the business is about, and they have to behave like an executive and know the individuals involved. And only in that way, I believe, can CIOs help shape the strategic goals of a company. Now, often, they don't earn that right until they've shown that they can also deliver, and there's a huge paradox here.
While shaping strategy is part of what CIOs need to do, sometimes in order to earn the right to help shape strategy, they have to be seen as someone who's delivering the goods. Put it this way: You can't earn your place at the executive table without being perceived as having delivered cost-effective services to the organization. Now that may be an unrealistic requirement, but that's often the case. Life isn't fair.
So CIOs must manage two essentially conflicting roles?
Yes. The first is to shape and manage informed expectations, and that is what we call the demand side of the CIO's job. That's working with the executives, working with their business colleagues, and that's a heavy relationship role.
The second role has to do with delivering cost-effective IT-enabled services, and that's what we call the supply side of the CIO's role, the ability to supply, or deliver, the stuff.
This paradox must be everywhere.
Well, if you have both demand and supply roles, then you have to be perceived as being able to deliver, deliver, deliver. And there's something else to consider. The whole issue of setting expectations is important for a CIO in that he or she often has to negotiate and work with trade-offs. You can't continually say yes to things you can't deliver on.
But there's a heavy education and coaching role for CIOs as well, to help executives understand what IT can and cannot do. CIOs also need to educate executives about what they themselves need to deliver, so that their own expectations of IT can be met. Often, the CEO has unrealistic expectations about what IT can deliver, and that's often why the CIO role is sometimes split between someone who does the demand-side IT stuff and someone who does the supply-side IT stuff. You can't have top-level personal qualities in all those areas in one CIO.